Pella is renowned for crafting beautiful, energy-efficient windows and doors. To support this work, the company’s IT team became an early adopter of the Windows 7 operating system. With Windows 7 installed on 1,600 of its targeted 4,000 computers, Pella is already seeing increased IT efficiencies, including a 90 percent reduction in logon times and PC startup times that are 300 to 500 percent faster. The company has tightened data security and will reduce IT costs by U.S.$30,000 each year through the integration of BitLocker drive encryption technology. Pella streamlines desktop management by using Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R2 and Group Policy Preferences. Moreover, employees are eager to adopt the new operating system, and Pella calculates that it will save $25,000 annually in energy-related costs. Situation
Founded in 1925 as the Rolscreen Company, Pella has grown from a small, family-owned business to an industry leader in the production of quality residential and commercial windows and doors. Headquartered in Pella, Iowa, the company is committed to incorporating new technologies, increasing productivity, and practicing environmental stewardship.
To accomplish these objectives, Pella relies on a team of about 20 IT specialists who manage an infrastructure that included approximately 4,000 desktops running the Windows XP operating system. “We maintain a very lean infrastructure,” says Rich Coulter, Project Manager and Deployment Lead at Pella. “Therefore, it’s imperative that we put in place technology solutions that help us focus our resources on strategic projects—ones that promote business growth—rather than on managing our IT environment.”
||One of the most challenging parts of deploying a major technology is garnering employee support. But Windows 7 made that easy. Employees are eager for its productivity and user interface enhancements.
Director of IT Operations and Infrastructure, Pella
Despite an uncertain economy, Pella maintains its competitive advantage by judiciously investing in the latest technology. “We are a well-managed organization that can adapt to all manner of economic conditions,” says Jim Thomas, Director of IT Operations and Infrastructure at Pella. “We’ve been around for 85 years and have experienced many economic downturns and upswings. So even though, as an industry, we’re going through some challenging times right now, we continue to invest for the future.”
To lay the foundation for future growth, Pella needed a solution that would improve IT management, enhance security, and optimize user experience. Furthermore, the solution had to support the company’s commitment to environmental responsibility. “At Pella, we strongly believe that pursuing environmental sustainability is good business,” says Thomas. “When we evaluated upgrading our PCs, one of our top requirements was to reduce energy consumption across our desktop infrastructure.”Solution
In November of 2008, Pella learned about an opportunity to become an early adopter of the Windows 7 Enterprise operating system. The company was eager to test the BitLocker drive encryption feature, the enhanced Windows Recovery Environment, and improvements to Group Policy and the Windows PowerShell command line interface. In addition, Pella saw the potential for achieving productivity gains through the operating system’s usability features such as Jump Lists, which automatically populate recently or regularly used documents on the Start menu and Windows taskbar; the improved Sleep and Resume feature; and the Aero desktop experience.
In February of 2009, Pella launched a 50-seat pilot project of Windows 7 Beta with users from the IT Operations and Infrastructure team. Pella used Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010 as part of the project.
“With Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010, we could take advantage of the Windows 7 architecture in ways that we were not able to before,” Coulter says. “For example, we could inject software updates into the image offline. This meant we could build an image from beginning to end with the click of a mouse.” According to Coulter, updating an image in the past could take up to three hours. With Windows 7 and Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010, IT staff could complete that same task in less than an hour.
Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010 also includes the User State Migration Tool, which can be used to migrate settings from Windows XP to Windows 7. “To test the ease of migration, we used the ScanState command line with the hard-link option,” explains Coulter. “The hard-link keeps data intact and in the same place on the disk, which makes migration much faster. In fact, during our test, we migrated 30 gigabytes of data in approximately six and a half minutes. Normally, this would have taken more than an hour.”
During the pilot project, Pella also decided to upgrade from the Windows Server 2003 operating system to Windows Server 2008 R2 in preparation for an enterprisewide deployment of Windows 7. “We opted to roll out Windows Server 2008 in tandem with Windows 7 because there are synergies that we gain by deploying the two products together,” explains John McConeghey, IT Manager at Pella. “For example, Windows 7 includes some additional Group Policy objects that are much easier to manage with Windows Server 2008. By upgrading our domain to Windows Server 2008, we can take advantage of Group Policy settings in Windows 7 that are related to power management, which helps us make more intelligent energy-saving decisions.”Aggressive Phase-One Rollout
After Windows 7 became publicly available in November 2009, Pella began the first phase of its rollout. “We had committed to deploying Windows 7 to 1,000 computers by June 2010, so we needed to push hard to identify candidates for the upgrade,” Thomas says. With this in mind, the IT staff used Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit 4.0 to determine which devices could easily support Windows 7—namely, computers that had 2 gigabytes of memory or more and a dual-core processor.
“One of the first steps in the deployment process was to assess the environment,” adds Coulter. “With Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit, we were able to perform a companywide hardware inventory in less than 30 minutes. The tool is very simple and easy to use.”
||At Pella, we strongly believe that pursuing environmental sustainability is good business. When we evaluated upgrading our PCs, one of our top requirements was to reduce energy consumption across our desktop infrastructure.
Director of IT Operations and Infrastructure, Pella
Pella compared results from the inventory with information that it had collected from Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R2. “We wanted to cross-reference our data points to make sure we weren’t missing anything, and System Center Configuration Manager reports provided a good record of our hardware types and quantities,” McConeghey explains. After validating the results, Pella IT staff looked at the pool of employees whose computers were ready for Windows 7, and then selected a subset of employees to be part of the initial rollout.
“We were careful to include people across all organization levels and departments. By seeding Windows 7 in this way and demonstrating how Windows 7 could make it easier for these employees to do their jobs, we hoped to create a groundswell of interest in the new operating system,” Thomas says. “Employees are much more open to adopting new software when it is recommended by their colleagues instead of imposed by the IT department.”
Pella then began testing applications for compatibility with Windows 7. “Our environment is relatively locked down, and we have a list of about 300 corporate-approved, standard applications. That made it easy for us to count how many computers were using each application,” McConeghey notes. Pella IT staff gave priority to testing applications that had the highest usage and also were used by employees targeted for the initial rollout.
Pella used a combination of Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit and hands-on testing by the company’s application owners to determine compatibility with Windows 7. “Most organizations are lean these days, and we’re no exception. Being able to secure additional help can be challenging, so we informed the application owners early in our process with Windows 7 that we’d need their assistance, and then we shouldered a portion of the testing workload,” says McConeghey.Thorough Phase-Two Compatibility Testing
The company deployed Windows 7 to 1,200 computers by June 2010, surpassing its goal, and then moved into the second phase of its rollout with continued application compatibility testing.
“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of conducting comprehensive application compatibility testing. If the applications that employees need can’t run on Windows 7, then you can’t upgrade their computers. It’s critical that companies devote sufficient time and resources to testing and remediation,” McConeghey notes.
As of January 2011, Pella had certified about 60 percent of its applications to run on Windows 7. Some of the remaining applications that did not run on Windows 7 were nearing their end of life, and others were used by so few employees that Pell decided that they didn’t warrant remediation. For applications that did need to be remediated, Pella used Microsoft “shims,” or prescribed workarounds, to make the software function properly in Windows 7. The company engaged with Microsoft Consulting, which helped it select and implement the appropriate shims.
To accelerate remediation of the outstanding applications that still need to run on Windows 7, Pella is considering using Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V). MED-V makes it possible to run Windows XP in a virtual machine on computers with Windows 7. “We believe that using MED-V will make it easier for us to reach our goal of installing Windows 7 on all 4,000 computers by the end of 2011,” says McConeghey. Final Steps for Simple, Zero-Touch Installation
To help simplify and automate deployment of Windows 7, Pella began using the Operating System Deployment feature in System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R2 in January 2011. “Because our employees are so familiar with System Center Configuration Manager and it provides such comprehensive capabilities, it makes sense to use it instead of Microsoft Deployment Toolkit as we roll out Windows 7 to the rest of our employees,” McConeghey says. Now Pella IT administrators benefit from a single interface for operating system and application deployment.
“Using System Center Configuration Manager also gets us closer to our goal of achieving zero-touch installation,” Thomas adds. “For instance, suppose we’re replacing an employee’s computer. Instead of having to keep track of what applications need to be installed on the new device, we can use the computer association capability in System Center Configuration Manager to automatically install that employee’s applications, along with the operating system.”Benefits
By using Windows 7, Pella is able to improve employee productivity and satisfaction, enhance data security and efficiency of IT tasks, and support the company’s commitment to environmental responsibility.
“One of the most challenging parts of deploying a major technology is garnering employee support. But Windows 7 made that easy. Employees are eager for its productivity and user interface enhancements,” Thomas says.Accelerates Everyday Tasks, Cuts Logon Time by 90 Percent
Throughout the deployment process for Windows 7, IT leaders have consulted with employees to gather user experience information, comparing this to the system performance data that it was documenting. In particular, the company benchmarked startup times for PCs running Windows XP against those running Windows 7. “We found that PCs running Windows 7 started three to five times faster than those that had Windows XP installed,” Coulter notes.
||With Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit, we were able to perform a companywide hardware inventory in less than 30 minutes. The tool is very simple and easy to use.
Project Manager and Deployment Lead, Pella
In addition, the use of BitLocker with Windows 7 has contributed to a smoother, faster logon experience for employees. With Windows XP, the company used two separate tools for drive encryption, which meant employees needed to complete a two-step process each time they logged on before they could access their desktop screen. “Now, with BitLocker, employees only need to enter a single password and they can start their day—which they love.” says Coulter.
McConeghey adds, “When you talk about getting people to ‘buy in’ or adopt a new technology, you have to find a benefit that matters to them. It’s hard to think of a more fundamental, tangible benefit for most employees than the ability to start their computer faster. Our people used to spend up to five minutes logging on in the morning; now, they can complete that process in as little as 30 seconds.”
Employees also take advantage of the enhanced Sleep and Resume feature in Windows 7. “Because Sleep mode works so flawlessly in Windows 7, employees can stay engaged with tasks longer and get back to work more quickly after meetings or when they’re traveling,” says Coulter. Boosts Employee Satisfaction
The company’s ongoing rollout of Windows 7 has met with widespread praise from employees. “The Jump Lists feature is terrific—very intuitive and easy to use,” says Coulter. “Our people really like the clean look and feel of the Windows 7 user interface.”
Employees also report that the Aero desktop experience feels more organized and easy to navigate. “With Windows 7, for example, I love that I have the ability to change the order of my icons in the Windows taskbar. I like to know where my applications are, what files are open, and what programs are running. This may sound insignificant, but it matters to me because it makes my everyday tasks faster and easier,” says McConeghey.
According to Thomas, “The usability enhancements in Windows 7 helped to create the groundswell that we had hoped for when we began the rollout. Many employees who have seen their colleagues benefiting from Windows 7 have approached the IT staff asking if they could be next on the upgrade list. In several cases, we had to point out that an application on the employee’s computer wasn’t yet able to run in Windows 7—and the employees asked us to do the upgrade anyway without the application. That’s how much they wanted to use Windows 7 once they saw it in action.”Enables Enhanced, Cost-Effective Data Security
Pella uses the Group Policy improvements in Windows 7 to better configure and maintain security settings. “With Windows 7, we can customize security settings for individual users,” Thomas says. “For example, with our previous operating system, a user had to be a local administrator in order to add a printer. Now, we can give users a little more authority—but not more than they actually need—which reduces the amount of time we spend on simple IT requests.”
With BitLocker, Pella has enhanced protection of sensitive data stored on hard drives. Also, because BitLocker technology is included with Windows 7, Pella can eliminate a third-party security application. “Our former solution cost [U.S.]$100 for each license, plus $20 a year for support and maintenance,” Thomas says. “We’ve already saved about $12,000 by using BitLocker to reduce licensing and maintenance costs. When our rollout of Windows 7 is complete, this savings will rise to $30,000 a year.” Improves IT Efficiency
By using Microsoft solutions, Pella makes it easier to perform IT management tasks. “With a small IT staff, we’re always looking for ways to increase efficiencies,” Thomas says. “System Center Configuration Manager helps in this effort by giving us a unified platform for operating system and application deployment, and reducing the amount of manual intervention needed to support our computing environment.”
New Group Policy Preferences in Windows 7 help IT staff streamline configurations. “We’ve gotten a lot of use out of the Power Plan preferences, particularly for employees on the factory floor. We give them the option to manipulate their power settings, so that they can determine how long their computers sit idle before they shut down or go into Sleep mode. Our workers appreciate this because they can roam the factory and then, when they return to their computers, be up and running instantly without having to log back on,” says McConeghey.
Pella also expects to gain efficiencies by using the enhanced Windows Recovery Environment and Windows PowerShell. “Windows Recovery Environment will make it easier to support our remote workforce and salespeople, and PowerShell will help us write scripts to automate tasks and improve management of the operating system,” McConeghey notes.Bolsters “Green” Initiatives, Saves $25,000 Annually in Energy Costs
Pella has received several state and federal awards for its commitment to environmental stewardship. As part of its environmental initiative, the company has put several solutions in place to help manage power consumption within its data centers. “Now with Windows 7, we have the ability to manage additional energy resources outside of the data centers,” says McConeghey. “By moving our 4,000 PCs to Windows 7, we calculated that we’ll save about $25,000 a year from lower energy costs alone,” says McConeghey.
Moreover, the company expects to see additional incremental savings across the enterprise by combining this software strategy with its recycling efforts, responsible procurement practices, and environmentally friendly manufacturing processes.
Thomas concludes, “We are committed to cost management, but not at the expense of future value. That’s why we continue to invest in upgrades to our operating systems. Microsoft products are the core components of our infrastructure, and we expect to continue building on the robust foundation of Windows 7 for years to come."
Works the way you want: Windows 7 will help your organization use information technology to gain a competitive advantage in today’s new world of work. Your people will be able to be more productive anywhere. You will be able to support your mobile workforce with better access to shared data and collaboration tools. And your IT staff will have better tools and technologies for enhanced corporate IT security and data protection, and more efficient deployment and management
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